While the Australian tongue is not very well equipped for Eastern European languages, I have learnt it is best just to give it all you’ve got when trying to communicate in Czech. This is a fun challenge: ‘a’ sounds like ‘ya’;‘kh’ sounds like ‘chi’; ‘ow’ sounds like ‘au’ and there are a lot of ‘z’s and crosses and hats in between. But rather than say every syllable with a question mark (which often provokes a ‘what-the-hell-are-you-saying’ look), a good stab will often result in either comprehension or a gold-star-smile for trying.
Stand on the right of an escalator; look right then left when crossing the road; open the door from the right, not the left. While you may be thinking, ‘of course, it’s Europe’, these simple actions have been plaguing me on a 15 minute basis. Cars come from practically nowhere as you look to the left and march forward. People give you a not-so-happy look when you are casually standing on the left of the escalator as they try to push by. And I have found myself grabbing left for a door handle at almost every entrance. So the mantra goes: stand on the right of an escalator; look right then left when crossing the road; open the door from the right, not the left.
Bags are people too; well at least as far as the Prague metro is concerned. For any luggage larger than 25cm x 45cm, a 13kc jizdenka (ticket) is needed. These tickets can be valid for varying periods, depending on the type of ticket and when you validate it (in the little yellow box when entering the platform). Tickets only need to be validated on the first use after purchase, so you will often find people selling on tickets with valid transfer time for discounted price. Just make sure you check the validation time and ticket type to make sure you’re not buying a dud.
Wine is the blood of life, sold at only 30kc. Like most of Europe, wine is often cheaper than water and is just as readily available. You can get carafes in restaurants or bottles in supermarkets starting at 30kc (about $A2 ), allowing you to feel typsy, pho-European and like you are on holidays, all at the same time. I am a fan!
The 90’s are now in many clubs across Prague. This time warp makes for a fantastic night out singing to all the English hits from the 90’s (which makes you simultaneously feel really old and like you’re back in school). I had an especially fun moment drinking a tequila sunrise and singing to Kylie under a disco ball with a French ballet dancer and his South African boyfriend (how random can it get?).
Every street in the Old Town looks almost the same. This time it really isn’t just me – really! While I do have a knack for mis-navigation, some streets in the Old Town can be especially challenging. As it turns out, ‘Husova’ and ‘Karlova’, while both lined with cobble stones and quaint little shops, are not the same place. In fact, they run perpendicular and when confused for the same street can cause all sorts of lost. (Sorry Andrew and Nina but you knew better than to listen to me).
Yelling is not always yelling, it could be laughing, debating, happily exclaiming…or yelling. It has been interesting to observe the difference in cultural communication norms. A couple of times I turned to the sound of heated, escalating, bordering-on-aggressive Czech words to find smiles, hugs and nods of agreement. I guess the lesson here is to never assume someone’s meaning just be their tone.
Anything can be done with pork. It can be slathered with blue cheese; roasted with honey; baked with walnuts; sliced with ham and prosciutto (a triple pig special); served as a hock on a wooden board with mustard and pickles; drenched in jus and served with pickles; fried with rice and served with pickles…
Pedestrian crossings do not always equal right of way for pedestrians. I learnt quite quickly not to assume a car or bus or tram will stop at zebra stripes on the street. As far as we can tell, buses will usually stop; some cars will stop if they are nice; others will usually stop if you are already crossing; trams will stop at signals; and horse-drawn cars will run you over every time.
Supermarkets can be a battle ground. While the supermarket excursion to buy essentials (cheese, meat, cheese, fruit, chocolate and wine) was a lot of fun, we found the Czechs are more than ready to stand their ground and fight in line for the fruit scales, baskets or the check-out. I’m sure it’s all in fun, but it pays to be on your toes (with elbows at the ready) if you want to get in and out under 20 minutes.